LONDON – American swimmers won two gold medals, set a world record and broke two Olympic records Wednesday at the 2012 Olympic Games. The golds belonged to Nathan Adrian in the men’s 100m freestyle and Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Shannon Vreeland and Allison Schmitt in the women’s 4x200m free relay. Rebecca Soni set the world record in the semifinals of the women’s 200m breaststroke in 2:20.00.
After the fifth night of finals at the Aquatics Centre, Team USA’s medal count in the pool now stands at 18 – 8 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze. It leads all countries in the medal standings.
Men’s 100m Freestyle
Adrian jumped out to a good start in the first half of the men’s 100m freestyle, touching third at the wall. But the real race came down to the last 50 meters, with he and World Champion James Magnussen of Australia going stroke-for-stroke down the homestretch.
Just as it looked like Magnussen was going to pull away with his signature closing speed, Adrian stepped up and matched him. The race came down to the final stroke, with Adrian edging the Aussie by one-hundredth of a second, 47.52 to 47.53. Canada’s Brent Hayden won bronze in 47.80.
“People are coming back so fast these days,” Adrian said. “I’m a little more known for going out strong and kind of hurting on the way home, so I wanted to conserve a little more energy (in the first half) and come home strong this time. This guy’s an incredible closer, and I knew it was going to take a lot more than I’d ever done before to keep up.”
Coming into London, Adrian was ranked fourth in the world, and hadn’t broken the 48-second barrier in the 100 free until his lead-off leg of the American’s 4x100m free relay on the first night of competition.
“The most important lesson I learned from the 2011 World Championships is that every time I’m in a heat, I rid myself of externalities,” Adrian said. “(In my head) we’re like a group of fourth graders in the school yard racing for the wall. That’s where I’m most confident in my racing, and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Wednesday’s race marks the first time since 1988 that an American has won the men’s 100m freestyle. It was Adrian’s second medal of the meet after winning silver in the 4x100 free relay.
"I kind of touched the wall and thought, 'Oh, sweet, I've won my heat,'” Adrian said. “Then there's 10 to 15 seconds where it kind of sunk in, and I had to double check because I didn’t want to be that guy who was celebrating and got eighth or something.”
Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay
Franklin led off the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay against France’s Camille Muffat and Australia’s Bronte Barratt, the silver and bronze medalists in last night’s 200m freestyle, keeping the U.S. in contact with the leaders.
Vollmer moved the team into second behind Australia with her swim, and Vreeland held the Americans within a body length of the Aussies. Allison Schmitt, the gold medalist in the 200m free, brought it home in 7:42.92, about a half-second off the American record.
Australia was second in 7:44.41 and France was third in 7:47.49.
“I knew Allison was going to pull off something amazing, and the rest of us had to be at least even with everyone else,” said Vollmer, who also won gold and set a world record in the 100 fly on the second night of competition. “I fought as hard as I could that last 50 meters to either get ahead or at least stay even with the field so every person diving in would have the best chance they could.
“It’s amazing that confidence we have in each other. The adrenalin rush was just amazing.”
The 4x200m free relay was added to the Olympic schedule in 1996. The American women have now won this event in every Olympic Games in which it has been contested, except for the 2008 Games in Beijing.
“The best thing is to bring home the gold for the U.S.,” Schmitt said. “It’s my first Olympic gold medal in a relay. These three ladies had an amazing swim, and I just wanted to bring it home for them.”
Women’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinals
Soni was in control from start to finish in the semifinals of the women’s 200m breaststroke and touched more than two seconds ahead of the next-closest swimmer in her field.
Her world record was one of two set Wednesday. Daniel Gyurta also set a world record in the finals of the men’s 200m breaststroke in 2:07.28. Five have fallen over the course of the meet so far. In addition to tonight’s records, world records have also been set in the women’s 400m IM, the women’s 100m butterfly and the men’s 100m breaststroke.
“I felt there was no pressure,” Soni said. “I just wanted to feel it and see how it went. I just went for it. Anything can happen tomorrow (in the finals), so I’ll save my best for that. I just have to do it one more time.”
Men’s 200m Breaststroke
In the men’s 200m breaststroke, Gyurta took the lead from the start of the race and held off a charging field in the last 20-25 meters. Great Britain’s Michael Jamieson took silver in 2:07.43, followed by Japan’s Ryo Tateishi for bronze in 2:08.29.
Americans Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle finished fifth and sixth in 2:09.02 and 2:09.25. It was the first Olympic final for both swimmers.
Women’s 200m Butterfly
China’s Liuyang Jiao won the women’s 200m butterfly in an Olympic record time of 2:04.06, followed by Mireia Garcia of Spain in 2:05.25 and Natsumi Hoshi in 2:05.48. Team USA’s Kathleen Hersey was fourth in 2:05.78, improving on her 8th-place finish in the 200 fly at the 2008 Games. Teammate Cammile Adams was fifth in her first Olympic final in 2:06.78.
Americans swimming in semifinals Wednesday included Missy Franklin in the women’s 100m free (3rd, 53.59), Jessica Hardy in the women’s 100m free (8th, 53.86), Tyler Clary in the men’s 200m back (1st, 1:54.71), Ryan Lochte in the men’s 200m back (2nd, 1:55.40), Soni in the women’s 200m breast (1st, 2:20.00, WR), Micah Lawrence in the women’s 200m breast (6th, 2:23.39), Ryan Lochte in the men’s 200m IM (1st,1:56.13), and Michael Phelps in the men’s 200m IM (3rd, 1:57.11).
The top 16 swimmers in each event will swim in tomorrow night’s finals.